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The final two weeks

Ah, it seemed like just yesterday when there was plenty of time to prepare for the ING Miami Half Marathon. It was light years away.

And now, it's T-minus 13 days.

At this point, it's more an observation in how quickly time passes rather than any sense of panic. Because after this weekend's long run, I feel ready to tackle the 13.1 mile tour of downtown Miami and South Beach.

This week's long run was another two-hour endeavor. While the temperatures and the roads were just fine for outdoor running, I kept my workout on a treadmill. I wanted to be able to control my pace. I wanted the heat and humidity of the gym. And I wanted to mentally challenge myself.

I took the lessons learned from last week's long treadmill run and applied them to this one. Focused on my workout, I let go of the obsession of trying to hit my prescribed workout paces perfectly. Instead, I tried to simulate a road workout, where my speed would vary greatly without me even realizing it. During tempo intervals I played with the speed button on the treadmill, paying close attention to the 40 second countdown intervals on the machine's dashboard. I picked a base pace -- quick but still something I could sustain -- and increased my pace every 40 seconds, falling back for a 40 second recovery to my base pace. My tempo intervals were 10 minutes long and the 40-second game made that time fly by.

At the end of my run I had covered just about the same distance as last week. Only this time I felt so much better. The quality of the run was amazingly good. It was hard and challenging, but I felt confident, even in the last half hour. I straddled the treadmill only twice taking a pair of 1-minute "walk breaks" which, to me, simulated how I approach water stops in a race anyway.

More important than the actual pace and distance was how good I felt. I didn't breeze through the workout physically. Mentally I had to challenge myself, talk myself up that I could do that final 10 minutes of intervals and finish off the workout at my fastest pace. But while there were difficult parts to get through, there was a decided absence of struggle. That made all the difference in my attitude before, during and after.

My volume of workouts begins to decrease this week as I slide into taper during race week.

And I have never felt more ready for a taper to begin.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
For video of Sunday's long run, visit www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Bertinelli and Boston

As we began our long, slow run this morning, my friend immediately launched into her pet peeve of the day.

Apparently, actress Valerie Bertinelli will be running the Boston Marathon this April. She plans to join more than 500 runners who hope to raise $4.5 million for research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Bertinelli, once a star of the sitcom One Day at a Time, is most recently known as the celebrity spokeswoman for the Jenny Craig weight loss program. She has lost about 50 pounds and to keep her fitness momentum, she set some athletic goals for herself. In July, she completed the Wine Country Half Marathon in California in 2:12:19.

In an article in People after the half marathon, Bertinelli hinted at her next goal. "My trainer things I'm going to do a marathon before I'm 50. I have until April," she said in the article. "I'm not committing yet. I haven't wrapped my head around it. We're negotiating."

Apparently, the negotiations are done.

On Monday she appeared on the Today show and talked, among other things, about running the famed Boston Marathon. "I"m really going to do it," she said on the show. "I'm training right now and come April 19, four days before my 50th birthday, I'll be running 26.2 miles."

What has my friend in a frenzy is the combination of celebrity, cancer research and the Boston marathon. She is a cancer survivor and a former Boston qualifier and finishers. She would love to get back to Boston, but her road back to racing has her slower since her treatments.

If Bertinelli wanted to raise money and awareness for cancer research, she could have picked any other marathon. But people spend their entire lives working to qualify for Boston. Additionally, my friend would be more sympathetic, perhaps even more encouraging, if Bertineli took the charity spot in the most famous marathon as a cancer survivor, or as someone known for her continued efforts in cancer research.

Instead, what Bertinelli looks like to my friend is a celebrity getting special treatment, picking a charity so that she can run Boston.

Heck, even people who reached Boston's qualifying standards were shut out of this year's race because it sold out.

Personally, I think races with charity spots have their place. I like the idea of people supporting a cause, a community through a challenging athletic endeavor.

But you have to pick your spots.

Bertinelli's Boston marathon quest will be portrayed more for her weight loss and role as the Jenny Craig spokeswoman than it will to raise awareness and money for a worthy cancer research center.

Charity runners and qualifiers (or elite runners) can co-exist. And I believe there is plenty of room for all at the table.

But you do have to be sensitive to the meaning and significance of the event.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
For details on today's half marathon training run visit www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Cold weather workouts

The early morning temperature was in the double digits. There was no wind and the streets (and most sidewalks) were plowed. So Sue and I decided to take our easy run outside for the first time in weeks.

The combination of frigid temperatures and concern over our footing (and hence injury) so close to the Miami half marathon made us lean toward taking our runs to the treadmill -- especially on days which involved pace or speed work.

But this was an easy day, so we put on the layers and went outside. We were slow, but we knew we would be. That was, in part, the point. Overall, the run was refreshing and in the end, we both felt we dressed a bit too warm for the conditions.

A good friend of mine who lives in the general Washington, D.C. area earned a lottery spot for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in the spring and began her training this past weekend in cold weather. She asked for tips and aside from the typical advice to wear layers and cover your extremities, I told her to make sure she brought a change of clothes. Why? Because after the run when your warm-gear traps the sweat next to your skin, you will freeze instantly.

That was a bit of wisdom that came from a live-and-learn perspective.

But now that temperatures will warm up into the 30s this week and weekend, there's a good chance to get even more running accomplished outside.

If you're ready to venture out, check out an article by the Mayo Clinic which offers tips on how to stay motivated, fit and safe in cold-weather workouts.

And if you think that running in cold weather will burn more calories, sadly that seems to not be the case says a science section Q&A in the New York Times.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
Looking for thoughts on last night's episode of The Biggest Loser? Click here.

The long run: Plan B

Some days, more gains are made through struggle than through hitting your stride.

Such was the fate of my weekend long run.

The countdown continues for the Miami Half Marathon and my two-hour run had significant tempo intervals. These were paces I had not previously held, at least for any significant amount of time, in a training run. Yet my coach believed I could do it. More importantly I believed I could do it.

I entered the gym focused and ready to go, prepared with index cards and tape for the treadmill display (one with the breakdown of my workout, one with positive affirmations) along with my gels and water bottle. I settled into my warmup. I turned up the pace for my first 20 minute interval.

And it felt horrible.

I had something going on with the toes on my left foot (the same area which started bleeding during the Buffalo Marathon), my right arm was sore and a cramp was developing in my side where my heart rate monitor wrapped around my torso. I made it 15 minutes at the tempo pace before jumping to straddle the treadmill, taking a sip of diluted Gatorade Endurance and ripping off my heart rate monitor strap.

My 10 minutes of recovery was much slower than anticipated.

In fact, for the rest of the workout, I was well below the speedy tempo work I had intended to do.

About an hour into my run, my friend Sue arrived. I again straddled the treadmill to take some water and told her I wanted to cry.

Ah, but I didn't.

I refocused. A good friend of mine who lives in Texas (and also happens to be named Amy) was doing the same workout at her gym, giving me solidarity on the treadmill, even if we were roughly 1400 miles apart. She was suffering just as I was and that knowledge helped me through.

Among the options available to me were to (a) quit (b) start a conversation of negative self talk about the way the workout was going and (c) change my story. 

Choosing Option C made the run a success regardless of how fast my tempo intervals were. The run wasn't "bad" it was hard. I didn't quit. I didn't give in to the negative thoughts, the doubts that can easily creep into your head. We can do more than we think we can, and at that moment, finishing the workout was what was important.

In the end, I finished nearly 12 miles. But it wasn't the distance or the pace that was particularly important. Those are numbers and the numbers will come.

What I gained for Miami was another bit of mental strength, another experience I can rely on when the course gets tough. I know that I can devise a Plan B on the fly -- and get to the finish just fine.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Connecting fitness and charity

The ninth season of The Biggest Loser began last night on NBC with the heaviest group of contestants ever in the history of the show. The trainers are daunted by the task in front of them while the premier hinted at the possibility of a season filled with deep emotional issues. After all, most people do not get to be 400-some pounds just because they like food. And if the creators are true to their evolving mantra that The Biggest Loser is a movement to change people's lives and not just a game show for obese people, we should get to see some interesting and compelling story lines.

For those at home who have weight to lose, the show is again sponsoring its Pound for Pound Challenge. Those who sign up for the challenge, pledge to lose weight and for each pound they pledge to lose, a pound of groceries will be delivered to a local food bank through the organization Feeding America.

It's one of the connections that can help jump start many people's resolutions to live healthier lives. And for many women, the charity connection is key to starting and maintaining a fitness routine. It may be just anecdotal, but when races or fitness events have a charitable tie-in, women seem most comfortable participating. The reasons? It could be the non-competitive nature of those events. Or it could be that it creates for some women (and some men) a valid reason to take time away from work and family to exercise and train.

And if your journey to fitness and perhaps into athletics begins with a charity event, there are plenty available.

If you want to go big, this summer will feature Wheels to Wells, a cycling event to raise money for wells in North Africa to bring clean drinking water to 40,000 people. The event is looking for riders to bike the entire event -- a cross-country venture -- along with participants to cycle week-long portions of the route.

On a more local, and less intimidating scale, there are fundraisers in Western New York. The Ride for Roswell opened its registration for the annual fundraiser for Roswell Park Cancer Institute held this year on June 26. The event, which begins and ends at the University at Buffalo's North Campus, features eight different routes, from 3 miles to 62.5 miles, although the website suggests that a 100-mile route may be added this year.

Also on the bike, the annual Tour de Cure to benefit the American Diabetes Association is June 5 from Niagara County Community College. The six routes range from a 6-mile family fun ride to a 100-mile ride.

If walking is more your speed, the 14th Annual Hospice Buffalo Memorial Walk is scheduled for May 23. The 5K walk begins and ends at the Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf.

Want to focus on running? The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is a 5K run on June 12 from the Delaware Park Rose Garden which draws hundreds of participants, including breast cancer survivors and first-time runners.

For bigger fundraising dreams and the chance to train for and travel to significant half marathons, marathons or triathlons, try Team in Training or Team Cure Challenge.

Team in Training is the standard bearer for helping people through their first (or latest) endurance event while raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Based on the same model, Team Cure Challenge raises money for Roswell Park Cancer Institute and includes training for local events, including the 8K Shamrock and Turkey Trot and the Buffalo Half Marathon and Buffalo Marathon.

Meanwhile, most local 5Ks and regional triathlons have a charity tie-in, making the ability to connect fitness and athletic challenges with giving back to the community a pretty easy task.

It's just a matter of selecting your charity and event and completing the registration. If the cause is close to your heart, the motivation to do those workouts will never be difficult to access.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Embracing winter on snowshoes

A few years ago, I thought of a great Christmas present for my dad -- snowshoes.

I had bought a pair a year earlier and used them once or twice. My dad, who has been known to disappear for hours at a time on walks and cultivated my own love of hiking, could certainly use them on his winter walks.

But ever since we bought them, we haven't been able to get out in the snow together. Until this winter, that is, when Mother Nature decided to keep a steady stream of snow over Western New York. So last week, my dad and I went to Chestnut Ridge Park for some snowshoeing. We only got lost once and my dad only tripped himself up a handful of times. It was generally a fun time. No watches or monitors or time frames. Just time together playing in the snow.

Granted, all this cold and snow is not helpful for those of us training for winter or early spring races. But if we live in a snow belt we might as well embrace the winter. Some ski, others ice skate and still others, like me, get out the snowshoes. In fact, some coaches will tell you that you can substitute a run with snowshoeing in the winter.

It's different than running. There is definitely a learning curve. But it's not about getting the workout in. It's about having fun, trying something new and seeing where it takes you -- physically, mentally and emotionally. Even if you're just strapping on some rented snowshoes for a jaunt around a flat field, it can be an adventure and make the winter weather, perhaps, just a tad more bearable.

Jenny Hadfield offers tips on how to buy snowshoes and how to get started in an article at Runners World's online site.

And if you're so inclined to snowshoe in a group, there is a 5K snowshoe race at Chestnut Ridge Park on Jan. 24. You can race it or walk it, but you can definitely have fun playing in the snow.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Half marathon preparation

In 27 days, the ING Miami Half Marathon will be underway.

That numbers is pretty scary to look at it. Because it conjures up lots and lots of fear -- fear of not enough time, of not be ready, of not being prepared.

If  reframe that unsettled feeling in my stomach, though, it becomes not fear but excitement and anticipation. What will the next 27 days bring? What will that day be like? I wonder. (And as an aside, it can lead me into breaking out in the song "I Have Confidence" from The Sound of Music or The Family Guy. Either version actually makes me smile.)

There are two outcome-based goals for Miami -- one is hitting a specific time (which is super secret and known to only a handful of people who will spontaneously combust if they tell anyone else) and the other is a more relaxed time goal, one that just wants to beat the time I ran the race in last year (which was 2:09 for anyone who was thinking of looking up the race results).

But outcome-based goals are tricky because there are variables outside of your control. And if you base your entire existence on the result, you not only miss the fun and joy of the process, you set yourself up for huge amounts of failure and disappointment.

There are other goals I have for the Miami Half Marathon, one which showed in my long run over the weekend.

It was a two-hour training run which took place on the treadmill (because 15 degrees and patches of black ice are not part of my Florida race plan). Alongside three of my friends, I focused on getting through the run which included a warmup then three sets of tempo-pace intervals.

Those were hard. Very hard. And the gym's satellite radio station was playing Heart. Not that I have anything against Heart but "Magic Man" was not helping me solider through that second 15-minute tempo interval.

But I kept going. And the magic of it all for me was I didn't back off.

Last year when doing these types of runs, I would fail to keep the prescribed pace. I would quickly get frustrated and back off. This time, nope. I didn't give in to the doubts in my head, to the voice which suggested that it would be OK if I turned down the pace, or walked the last 15 minutes of my cool down instead of running it out at my endurance pace.

It wasn't about doing the workout perfectly. I'm trying to give up perfect for 2010. It was knowing that I would not break if I pushed just a little bit harder. It was about not selling myself short.

If goals are things which are under your complete control, then my approach and my attitude are the biggest measures of success I can find.

The countdown continues.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Resolutions for 2010

With the new year, and new decade, around the corner, it's that time of year when people start to make resolutions -- things they want to do in 2010, or change, or be better yet. It's a time of hope in a way. And in some ways it's a time of desperation -- something by which the diet industry is often fueled.

But what if we do want to lose weight, get fit and get healthy in 2010?

If you can avoid the bombardment of television ads and shift through the product placement, there are some really good tips available. (See, for instance, the suggestions from Dr. Mehmet Oz in an article in the New York Times.)

But along with every day changes you can make to be healthier in general, if fitness is one of your broad goals for the upcoming year, there is something really powerful about taking part in a big event.

Whether you're singing up for a marathon or Ironman, entering your first 5K or sprint triathlon or gearing up for a charity walk, there is something inherently motivating about registering for an event. Sure you can go sign up for spinning classes or the latest cardio-ab class at the gym. And those are great way to improve your fitness, meet new people, challenge yourself and have fun. But for many people, there needs to be a bigger end goal. It's not about winning a race, but about being part of something bigger, something you maybe thought you couldn't do. It's something that can keep you honest. Something to make you actually go to those spin and cardio-ab classes you registered for in the first place.

And if you're just starting out, don't let the terms "marathon" or "Ironman" frighten you away.

Because there is nothing wrong with training for your first event regardless of what it is. Years ago when I wanted to take some control over my health and fitness I secretly "trained" for a 3-mile charity walk. Creating my own type of training play I went to the gym (or got outside) several times a week for power walking. I added in some weight training for variety and did some yoga to round out my "program." There are plenty of charity events -- from walks to bike rides to swims -- which can serve as a focal point for your fitness goals.

If you're ready to start running, the Couch-to-5K program by Cool Running takes two months to get you to your first 5K with three runs a week. (And it's free.) There are programs available from runnersworld.com that range from training for a Boston Marathon qualifying time to a beginner 5K. (Prices for the interactive program run from $20 to $40). You can google running and triathlon training plans and find tons of options online, some free, some affordable, some pricey. But all of the give you a good place to start.

You can also check out local running and triathlon clubs and Western New York is filled with them. For triathlon, there is the Buffalo Triathlon Club, which in the spring begins group workouts, including the ever-important open water swims. Running clubs are plentiful in the area and while Checkers is probably the best known of them all, there are at least five others with regular workouts and gatherings. The links page on buffalorunners.com offers a pretty complete listing of running clubs in the area.

As you explore what it is you want to tackle, find your race, your training plan and your support crew it's time to take the next step -- telling people. You don't have to tell them that you're going to run your first 5K in 20 minutes or qualify for Boston in your first marathon. You don't have to tell people who will be negative or question you or bring you down. But tell some people close to you, ones who would support you if you said you were going to run naked down the street during the Blue Moon on New Year's Eve. They will not only give you encouragement, but will give you a sense of making it real. That first race isn't just a wish -- it's a resolution that will happen if no other reason than the fact that you want it to happen.

What will you tackle in 2010?

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Race report: Boxing Day 10-miler

The pile of luggage was rather impressive. Two huge bags waited at my front door, along with me, patiently waiting for my friend Sue to arrive.

You would think the trip was an overnighter, but no, we were just going to Hamilton for a few hours, to run the 89th Annual Boxing Day 10-miler in Hamilton. But the weather report wasn't very helpful in planning. It called for a 50 percent chance of rain and/or snow showers (which means they had no idea IF precipitation was going to fall and were less sure what KIND it would be if it did) and light winds. What's a girl to pack? lots of layers and two different kinds of sneakers along with shower gear for afterward. Yup, it looked like I was moving into the James Street YMCA.

My best running buddies, Sue and Herm, were running in the 10-miler, a tradition in Hamilton dating back to 1920. Training for the Miami half marathon next month, it seemed as if the run would fit in perfectly with my workouts. My coach agreed and passport and overstuffed luggage in hand, off to Canada we went.

About 700 people were in the event, including a fair number of those who chose to walk the 10 miles (the walkers began the route half an hour early). The rain had stopped, the wind wasn't a factor and temperatures were cool but not cold. If the rain and snow held off, it could be a pleasant run, weather-wise at least. With little fanfare, the race began (after a guy yelled "Go!" Thankfully there were no long-winded speeches) and off we went.

My goal for the race was to run a strong a tempo pace. But that first mile is often the most difficult. It's easy to get caught up in the speed of the start and forget about running your race. Sue stayed with me for the first mile and we dialed it back, running smart. I checked my Garmin to keep track of our pace and we ran that first mile right about where I wanted to.

But of course, that first half mile included a hill up a bridge.

It wasn't until the day before the race when I read the course description online, which noted the route was scenic but challenging and described a number of hills.

The description was completely accurate.

It took me a long time to get into a rhythm. The course was pretty, taking us along the boathouse and waterfront. That section was mostly flat with a few slight rollers, until we had to climb out of the park.

Then at Mile 5 came a long hill.

At this point, I stopped looking at my Garmin. There was no need. I would not run my tempo pace up this hill. But the good news was, I didn't care. As the negative voices started to chime in my head, I reminded myself that I was strong, that I could do this and that I trusted my fitness. Up the hill I went. And then I found a bit of a groove.

Until that seventh mile when we hit another signifiant hill. For those of you familiar with Chestnut Ridge, think Mother. It was a gradual climb to start, then a curve, then a steeper climb then a STEEP climb. Everyone around me walked. I kept running. Or at least I kept a running motion. I would like to say that I banished doubt in this instance, but I didn't. I didn't think much of anything. I just kept moving forward because eventually, the hill would end.

When the hill did end, we had a lovely water stop. A 20 second walk break to take in some water and off I went as the course continued onto a dirt path. Parts of the wet mud on the trail had iced over. I picked up my pace and rhythm, but it was definitely under speed. The last thing on my agenda was wiping out after Mile 7.

We hit Mile 8 on the trail then turned out onto a residential road. There was a bit of a downhill (a glorious downhill) until we hit, oh look, another hill. Granted, it wasn't a hill of much significance, but it was a pronounced incline. For the first time during the race, my legs started to hurt. But knowing how close I was to that finish line, I kept thinking about a strong and steady pace.

As the route turned back toward downtown Hamilton, I asked a police officer who was kindly controlling traffic if I was close to the end.

"Just up this dumb hill and around the corner," he said with a smile.

Just up the dumb hill I could handle, but he took some artistic license with the "around the corner" part. There were a few turns to end the race, but thankfully they were all downhill. I kicked it in when I could hear the finish line and sprinted hard.

Was I off my goal pace? Yes.

Was I concerned? No.

Ah, that's the feeling of personal growth.

It was the best 10-miler I've done. It was a strong, solid run and I kept the nuttiness that normally creeps into my mind at bay.

It was a hard course, but it was fun. And it is so on my schedule for next year.

The precipitation held off and my choice of clothing turned out to be perfect. (And yet I regretted nothing that I toted along with me.)

And the best part was sharing the day with two good friends ... along with the gingerbread hot chocolate we found on the way out of town.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

Success of a different kind

Perspective is a wonderful gift. And with gratitude to one of my Twitter peeps, I received a story about a great lesson in perspective.

It was an article from the Northern Ohio newspaper The News-Herald about twin sisters who attempted to run from Cincinnati to Cleveland to raise money for The United Way.

But one sister needed to start walking after 30 miles. The other kept running, but after 200 miles her body broke down.

"When I fell down after almost 200 miles, I cried, not only from the pain that reached its peak after almost 48 hours of pain, but because I thought I failed to reach my goal," the paper quoted Sandi Nypaver as saying. "It was just two years ago that this type of 'failure' would spiral me into a deep depression of self-disappointment. Maybe inspiring others doesn't mean that I had to complete the run in four days, maybe it's still believing after the pain had forced me into the ER."

So often we only celebrate the successes.

But what exactly is a success.

The Nypaver sisters recognized that raising money to help a worthy cause was a success in itself, even if they didn't complete their ultramarathon task.

You do the best you can with what you have, with what you know, at the time. Not only do you get a chance to learn yourself, you get the chance to see some magic happen.

Here's wishing for a magical holiday.

--- Amy Moritz
www.twitter.com/amymoritz
www.amymoritz.wordpress.com

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